Through a combination of life forces (being poor, trying to eat healthy, relationship turned boring), Marc and I have found that we hardly ever do proper dinner dates anymore. By that I mean anything besides cheap Asian takeaway and pizza home delivery. I was all set on something dressy last weekend when I realised (and this is an insight to my style of thinking) I had run out of contact lens and would have to wear glasses. Glasses and dressing up might work for some but not I. My glasses are lop-sided and dog-chewed and hardly stay on my face. We opted to dine locally instead.
I had noticed Birds Nest on my return from Europe and bookmarked it for later. 'Later' came about last Saturday night. We rocked up without a reservation and were squeezed into a couple of seats at a shared big table. This didn't bother us at all and in fact, I thought it suited the type of food served. Birds Nest is a small venue with a yakitori bar as centre of focus, some seats around it as well as a number of individual tables.
When we first decided to go there, I had in mind a mixed menu of typical Japanese treats in a sushi train format. Boy was I wrong. And this has something to do with not knowing what 'yakitori' means.
For anyone as ignorant as me, yakitori literally translates to 'grilled bird' and typically refers to Japanese grilled chicken skewers. Birds Nest is influenced by the many yakitori stalls in Japan that only sell yakitori and alcohol. I had my doubts about these limitations at first but after trying the food, I now firmly believe that skewers and booze are all that is needed for a good time.
Marc and I went with the 7 skewer taster set, plus some karaage chicken, a salad and grilled rice balls on the side.
The skewers are grilled fresh to order and came in courses so we weren't flooded with too many in one go. I thought the pace of delivery was just right so we weren't impatient between skewers and we didn't feel rushed either. Some of our other menu orders came intespersed with the skewer courses so we had a nice variety of pickings at all times.
Tebasaki - free range chicken wings
Sasami - free range chicken tenderloin in wasabi mayonnaise
Negima - free range chicken thigh with shallots
Tomato butabara - grape tomato wrapped in thinly sliced pork belly
Tsukune (free range chicken meatballs) and Torimomo (free range chicken thigh)
Buta bara - murray valley pork belly
I won't go through each individual skewer too much but in short, Marc and I enjoyed them a great deal. Each one was juicy, piping hot and full of flavour. The general taste was of a sweet soy teriyaki style marinade, which we happen to love. I suppose if you don't like teriyaki sauce then this type of food wouldn't be for you. One might think there isn't much to skewers but I'd say theres an art to cooking such small portions of meat to keep them moist on the inside but slightly charred on the exterior. I can also never achieve such a nice glossy coating at home.
Tori karaage - crispy free range chicken in Bird's Nest traditional seasoning, served with wasabi mayonnaise
The karaage chicken was likewise very good. It was a small serve but considering all the meat we were eating, we did end up walking out of there very full. The chicken has a fine crumb coating that was crunchy when we bit in. Again, this dish was clearly freshly cooked because it was so hot. When we eat subpar fried food on a regular basis, it's easy to forget how amazing it tastes when it is fresh. It makes a HUGE difference.
Sarada - mizuna, baby spinach, snow pea sprouts and raddish with yuzu soy dressing
I ordered salad to ease my conscience. It was good although the combination of leaves was too bitter for me. The salad was very simple and I didn't detect much of a dressing, which is probably a good thing if you're trying to be healthy but did make this an unremarkable dish. It's a salad that only works a side to go with other things.
Yaki onigiri - grilled rice ball, brushed with tare
Being an avid hater of rice, Marc was surprised to see that I wanted to try the grilled rice balls. Plain rice is 'meh' to me but something about grilled rice sounds very appealing. That applies to 'grilled' anything I suppose!
Rice ball opened up
These grilled rice balls were painted with a soy glaze as they were being cooked, which makes the outer coating very yummy. I admit I only picked off the outside and gave the rest to Marc. They kind of reminded me of the oven baked rice balls from Nikumaki Honpo but without the pork layer.
Marc would like me to spread the word that Birds Nest Yakitori is yum yum yum. He was so inspired he ended up scouting for more yakitori places on his lunch breaks during the week. It might seem strange to have a menu revolving around skewers but when you start devouring these tasty morsels, you realise that's all you need.